Unauthorised production and sale of local football merchandise is proving to be one of the main reasons for the failure to commercialise clubs.
This is because the clubs do not have legal mandate to block such businesses, law and marketing specialists have observed.
At matches inside and outside stadia, vendors are seen freely selling, among others, scarves, T-shirts, caps and bracelets that usually have colours of the most prominent Super League sides Nyasa Big Bullets, Be Forward Wanderers and Silver Strikers.
But legal experts argue that despite the merchandise bearing their colours, the clubs can find it difficult to flush them out of the market because the clubs themselves do not produce similar products that are protected by trademarks—symbol, word or a combination of the two, used to identify and protect a product from unapproved production.
Bullets extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held in Lilongwe last Sunday, resolved to commercialise the club by, among others, registering it as a public liability company with merchandise sale among its key income generation.
Meanwhile, Wanderers general secretary (GS) Mike Butao has also unveiled plans to go flat out with merchandise business promising that “a container full of branded products” will arrive from abroad soon.
“Morally the vendors are wrong to be selling the merchandise which they know represent a particular club,” lawyer Chipiliro Mpinganjira weighed in, “but the challenge is that legally it is difficult to say they are wrong because the things they sale carry symbols that have not been registered by the particular clubs.”
However, he suggested that clubs should consider forming business partnerships with those that are already producing the merchandise so that both sides can benefit.
“Clubs can invest in such businesses so that they produce more merchandise and, by extension, make much profit. In this way, both sides will benefit more,” he said.
Sports marketing expert Felix Ngamanya Sapao said the unauthorised merchandise sale has been necessitated by the clubs’ failure to supply such products.
“First, the clubs haven’t protected their brand through registration of the trademark with legal and business authorities. Other than that, the vendors have noted that there is a gap where clubs cannot supply the products. So they have capitalised on that,” he said.
Sapao advised clubs that if they want their merchandise to start selling then they should raise awareness to be buying their products from authorised sellers.
“Clubs must tell their supporters that if they buy from the unauthorised vendors the team does not benefit in any way. The supporters then will start shunning those that sell without authorisation,” he said.
Wanderers GS Butao said the only reason they let vendors sell unauthorised merchandise at their games is because they want supporters to be wearing the club’s colours.
“In the absence of our products, if we blocked the unauthorised merchandise sales, we couldn’t have been seeing our blue and white colours dominating the terraces,” he said.
Butao however warned that they would start confiscating any unauthorised products once their merchandise is shipped in the country.
“Our container with an assortment of merchandise that includes scarves, replica jerseys and other products is expected to arrive in the country soon. Once that happens the unauthorised vendors will not be allowed to sell their products at our games,” he said.
Butao said even if their brand might not be protected, they would have a case against the vendors.
“They sell their products with our colours at our game. That is uncalled for,” he said.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary Alfred Gunda said the soccer governing body does not have laws in place to fight against unauthorised sale of club materials.
“Like every company the clubs also have to patent their merchandise so that they are able to protect their brand. Sadly, this has not happened and since supporters just want to have something that resembles what their clubs look like you find that they still buy the products vendors sell,” he said.
“As FAM we can’t set rules to block such sales. It is up to the clubs to make efforts to sort that out,” he said. n